By the late 1960s, international folk dance and music were popular on college campuses. This wave resonates today with a variety of cultural artists returning to the Spokane Fall Folk Festival.
After two years as a virtual, the free event at Spokane Community College features live entertainment on Saturday and Nov. 13 from approximately 80 performers. The variety includes Scottish bagpipes and dancers, Japanese percussion, Chinese music, Spanish guitar, African, Middle Eastern and Bulgarian dances, bluegrass music and counter-dancing involving the audience.
The chance to see artists who bring the folk heritages of the world to one place is what draws visitors each fall and keeps the festival strong, said Sylvia Gobel, its director for more than 20 years.
Her involvement actually dates back to the first year of the festival, in 1996, when she was a volunteer. In the event’s second year, Gobel joined the organizing committee and has been instrumental ever since.
“I think people who are interested in traditional music, international music, cultural music and ethnic groups are the most attracted to the festival,” she said.
“I would say what has kept the festival going is that we’ve just had an incredible response from our local musicians in the community and local people who have discovered the festival and keep coming. What affects me the most is when people come up to me and say, “I didn’t know there were so many talented musicians and artists in the Spokane area, and such a variety. “
Gobel fell in love with international folk dancing in college, and her appreciation has never waned. She studied for a year in France and visited several countries on folk dance tours. It was there that she heard live music to accompany the dancing; she often first learned folk dances to recorded music.
“Most communities don’t have all of these bands readily available to play,” she said. “It was my entry into international folk dancing when I was in college in the late 60s and early 70s, when it was really popular.”
Many folk artists today don’t get much chance to perform live, she said. Providing this opportunity is part of the mission of the Spokane Folklore Society, a voluntary, nonprofit organization that sponsors the festival and is dedicated to the preservation of folk music and culture.
The regional festival was modeled after Northwest Folklife, which has been held in Seattle on Memorial Day weekend since around 1971. For many years, fans of Spokane’s international shows traveled there every year, Gobel said, and the event grew. Eventually, there wasn’t enough room for folk artists from the Spokane area to perform there, and people here started talking about a local festival.
“Around 1996, a group of people got together and we started a little festival, and it’s still going.”
They held the first festivals at the Unitarian-Universalist Church, but as the event grew it moved to Glover Middle School for a few years. In 2003, the festival moved to CSC.
Gobel said this year’s festival is slightly smaller, with around 20% fewer artists registering, as people return to indoor events. But the schedule is packed and always offers a variety of folk music and dance traditions.
Other activities include workshops, storytelling, jam sessions and craft vendors. Gobel said she can’t wait to hear live folk music again.
“It’s a wonderful experience for both the artist and the audience. The energy between them is very important, and it was missing for two years.
For more information, head to the spokanefolkfestival.org website and click the calendar icon for a list of performers and venues each day.